"I... I don't know." Chief Elijah said to Sophia. Leona was also uncertain about what to do. If she took the book to Silver Wolf Guild Hall and the sultans found out, they might destroy Nebdoui, Berreb, and Regudo in retaliation. If she just surrendered the book to them when their army inevitably arrived to take it, the chance to study ancient Desierto history might be lost forever. This was a tough situation with no easy answer.
"We have the time and the resources. I also know Court Heiromesh. Why don't we copy it here?" Sophia asked.
"They'll search the village for any hidden copies of the book. If they discover copies, they'll punish us all." Joshua quickly shot the idea down. Leona desperately wanted to copy the contents and stash them away in Silver Wolf Guild Hall, but she did not want everything she had worked for to be destroyed by the sultans. She could not risk Nebdoui and its allies because she had no right to do it.
"Joshua's right. We can't fight the army and hope to survive. We'll be declared outlaws and hunted down like animals. Any two-bit mage looking for a payday will be after us. There's plenty of mages looking for a payday." Leona agreed with the chief's son. She hated that thought, but it was an unpleasant reality. She was nowhere near the strength it took to oppose the sultans by herself. Even if she did fight their army and won, she would have to contend with bounty hunters looking to collect the bounty on her head. If she fought them off, the sultans would just keep sending armies and bounty hunters until Leona was finally killed.
Even if Leona died buying time for the evacuation of Nebdoui, there was nowhere for the villagers to run. The royal armies would hunt down the desert dwellers until none were left alive and leave their corpses to feed the vultures. Nebdoui and its allies would only follow Leona to the grave.
If by some miracle Leona managed to fight them to a stalemate, she would be declared an outlaw and be forever marked as such in Desierto. After having spent so much time fighting bandits in the region, none of them would want to suddenly ally with her. Even if they did decide to join with her, their assistance would demand a high price in return. Leona was not willing to bargain with them.
The Silver Wolf Guild Master's hands were tied. There was nothing she could do against the power of the sultans without risking her life and/or reputation. She was not willing to risk the lives of everyone in Nebdoui, Berreb, and Regudo just to keep a book. If the sultan's representatives came calling, she had no choice but to bow to their demands. That was the only choice the blonde really had.
Leona closed her eyes for a moment. She was tired from exploring the ruins, but she was also stressed out from the thought of three villages depending on her decision for their survival. Who was she to risk their lives? She had no right.
"What will you do?" Chief Elijah asked Leona. Leona opened her eyes and gave the only answer she could give.
"If the sultan's representatives want the book, they can have it. It's not worth the lives of everyone here." Leona said wearily. She hated to give up something she worked so hard to get, but when weighed against human lives, she would gladly let the book go if it kept Nebdoui and its allies safe. There were always other ruins to explore and other treasures to find.
Chief Elijah seemed relieved to hear that answer.
"Thank you." He said to her. Leona only took a deep breath in response. She took the golden book over to the wooden table and gently set it down. Sophia picked it back up and handed it to her daughter.
"We don't need to involve the chief in this, Leona. If you're going to read it, read it in our tent." Sophia said to her. Her mother was right. She did not need to get any more people involved than she already had.
"OK." Leona conceded. She was in no mood to argue with her mother. She just wanted to read the tome while there was still time to do it. There might not be much time before word spread and the sultan's representatives arrived to claim what they believed was theirs.
"Thank you, Leona." Chief Elijah thanked her as the Jarnefeldts left the chief's tent for their own.
-The Jarnefeldt tent, 15 minutes later-
Leona entered the family tent and set down the book on the wooden table. She threw off her backpack and sat down on the wooden bench that passed for seating. It was not her guild office, but it would just have to do because time was of the essence.
"OK, I'd better get going. We don't have much time." Leona said to Sophia. Sophia sat down right beside her.
"We're going to do this together, Leona. Your Court Heiromesh isn't as good as mine. Let me help you." Sophia gently urged her daughter.
"No. No one else should risk their life for this but me. It's my responsibility and my responsibility alone. I went into those ruins and I found it." Leona objected. If the sultans were going to imprison anyone who had read the book, it would be her. Sophia was the village's head scribe... she was too valuable to lose, but the sultans did not care about that.
"We're reading this together, Leona. There's no discussion." Sophia sternly argued. Leona hated the loss of control she was experiencing, but there was no choice. Her mother's knowledge of Court Heiromesh was better and Leona needed that expertise.
[Word Count: 12,000]
[Total Word Count: 12,000/12,500]